Nearly 6,000 football fans arrived at Center Grove Friday night anticipating a show.
Boy, did they get one.
In a Class 5A regional that produced a mind-numbing 992 yards of offense between the two teams, the sixth-ranked Trojans recorded a 58-34 victory against No. 3 and previously unbeaten Castle.
The victory not only qualified coach Eric Moore’s program for its fourth semistate appearance in five seasons, Center Grove (12-1) now gets a shot at No. 1 Lawrence Central. The unbeaten Bears come to the Trojans’ field next week with a trip to the 5A state title game at stake.
Senior halfback Conner Stapleton led the way for Center Grove, carrying the ball 18 times for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Fullback Lane Morris also accounted for three scores, two on runs and another through the air, to go along with 143 yards rushing.
In all, the Trojans’ wing-T offense came through with 511 yards, including 175 through the air from junior quarterback Luke Calvert.
Center Grove’s second-half performance defensively also played a major role in the final outcome. Castle junior quarterback Mitch Gilles, who completed 36 of 56 pass attempts for 423 yards, was limited to “only” 122 of that the final two periods.
This enabled Moore’s squad to put some much-needed padding between itself and the Knights after leading 37-27 at halftime. Center Grove also benefited from the absence of 5-foot-10 Castle slot receiver Jon-Marc Anderson, who sat out the second half with a shoulder injury after the senior blur produced 12 catches for 141 yards in the first half.